Dermatologist Recommended

Which food causes acne?

You may have heard conflicting opinions on whether diet matters when it comes to acne and other skin conditions. While the link between food and skin health may be controversial, recent studies show that diet does play a significant role in acne development. Based on clinical research, here are some dermatologist recommendations and insights for an acne-friendly diet.

Which foods can cause acne vulgaris?

Research shows that certain dietary choices can trigger or exacerbate acne breakouts.

Dairy products

Milk, cheese, and other dairy products can lead to the overproduction of male hormones called androgens. These hormones play a significant role in acne development. Removing dairy from your diet may reduce the number of new pimples that develop and lessen symptoms such as inflammation, redness, and breakouts.
One of the most triggering forms of dairy is cow's milk, especially "low fat" milk, which contains many progesterone-like hormones and higher sugar content. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that individuals with acne consumed significantly more low-fat/skim milk than those who didn't.

Processed foods

Most processed foods such as boxed cereal, sweetened baked goods, candy, fried foods, white bread, and chips spike blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels. Known as "high glycemic" foods, these choices cause our glucose levels to rise quickly, triggering an increase in growth hormones. This leads to enlargement of the sebaceous oil glands, more sebum (oil) production, and ultimately, more acne breakouts. Therefore, high-glycemic foods should be limited or entirely removed from the diet in people with acne-prone skin.

Foods with a high glycemic index to avoid

  • Bread products: White bread, bagels, and muffins, cakes
  • Sweet breakfast cereals: Corn flakes, rice crispies, sugary granola
  • Instant cereals: Sweetened oatmeal packs
  • Sweet fruits: Melons, pineapples, apricots, sweetened dried fruit
  • Starches: White potatoes
  • White grains: White rice, white pasta
  • Processed snacks: Pretzels, rice cakes, chips, crackers
  • Dessert: Candy, ice cream, milk chocolate, cakes
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, yogurt

Brewer's yeast

Brewer's yeast is an ingredient used in most bakery products such as bread, pizza dough, and cake to help the food rise. Avoiding products with brewer's yeast can help promote the healing of skin lesions. You may also find brewer's yeast in beer, vinegar, soy sauce, tempeh, and some pickled foods.

foods that are bad for acne

What foods should I eat to improve my acne breakouts?

Your skin loves whole foods such as vegetables, fresh fruit, lean protein, and nutrient-rich carbs. That's a shortlist, but it's a good place to start!
When combined with moderate exercise, reducing your sugar intake and fast food consumption can help regulate insulin levels and mitigate acne symptoms. These foods can also help clear breakouts!

Anti-inflammatory foods with a low glycemic index

  • Whole grains: Whole grains bread

  • Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils

  • Low GI starchy vegetables: Sweet potatoes

  • Low GI fruits: Green apples, pears, plums, grapefruit

  • Fish: Mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna

  • Leafy greens: Spinach, romaine lettuce, kale

  • Grass-fed lean protein: Turkey, chicken, eggs

  • Seeds: Flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds

  • Complex carbohydrates: Wild rice, quinoa, barley, beans, peas

Foods that are good for acne

Vitamins supplements that are good for your acne

While a good, balanced diet the best place to start when trying to clear your complexion, certain supplements can help, especially vitamin B5, vitamin A, and zinc. Learn more about the best supplements for adult acne and teens with acne.

Vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid) is one vitamin you do not want to be deficient in! Deficiencies can lead to increased sebum production and an increased likelihood of hormonal acne breakouts. One study found that those with severe acne who took a daily oral dose of B5 showed improved skin health. Read more about pantothenic acid and its benefits here.

Vitamin A can help with the immune system, vision, and the normal development of the skin cells. Vitamin A can be naturally found in beef liver, fish, green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, or dietary supplements.

Zinc is an essential mineral that contributes to skin, hair, and nail health boosts the immune system and promotes wound healing. A few clinical studies have shown that oral zinc may help treat acne —especially adult acne and cystic acne. We can find significant amounts of zinc in seafood, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and as a food supplement.

What are the best natural vegetable extracts for women with hormonal acne?

Cruciferous vegetables, also called Brassica vegetables, seem to be the best for women with hormonal acne or adult acne. The magical group of vegetables includes kale, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower. One ingredient of the cruciferous vegetables, DIM, seems to be especially useful to balance hormones in adults with acne. Click here for more info on DIM supplements for women with hormonal acne.

What should you drink when you have acne?

Drinking a lot of water is a must to stay healthy and energized. A small amount of black coffee is also okay, depending on how you tolerate caffeine. Teas, especially green tea, are rich in antioxidants and can benefit your general health and skin clarity.


The best diet for people with acne is actually pretty intuitive! Generally, diets should be balanced and filled with lean protein, vegetables, and low-glycemic complex carbs. That said, we should not forget that a good diet is just one factor in your way to clear skin. To combat acne completely, it is critical to implement a medical-grade skincare treatment personalized to the individual's acne severity and skin type.


To find the right acne treatments for your unique skin, take the free skin assessment by clicking here.

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